Negative Comment [by Guest Reviewer Tim George]
The line between provocation and exploitation is blurred in this multi-media examination of young woman’s spiral from depression to suicide. The Dummy combines live actors and back-projections of Facebook profiles and news footage and crams a lot of big ideas into its short running time. So many in fact that it never takes the time to really delve into the complexities surrounding the issues and social stigma of depression and anti-depressants.
While the show features a rather large cast, most of the characters are brief audio snippets from phone messages and voice-overs of comments from social media pages. The only really developed character is the young woman herself, played by Morgan Bradley. Her performance feels like a series of moments rather than a fully realised person. There are many points during the performance where the show stops to introduce some new element (a video clip, an audio collage), that hinders any sense of progression. With such a short running time and so many ideas to explore, it may have been to the play’s (and Bradley’s) advantage for director and creator Dawn Glover to take a slightly more conventional approach without such a reliance on theatrical gimmicks.
There is also a reliance on the clichés of depression which undermines the show’s attempts at verisimilitude. When she is not guzzling pills and struggling to update her Facebook status (a surprisingly effective conceit), the young woman is involved in a pair of dream-like encounters, in which she is terrorised by a ghostly violinist, and then has an abortive intimate encounter with a mystery man who could hold the key to her salvation. While the violinist works as an ever-present signifier of the main character’s perpetual mental anguish, the encounter with the young woman’s mysterious suitor is so ambiguous that it feels less like a creative decision and more like it is just an under-cooked attempt at exploring the young woman’s interior life.
In the end, the symbolism feels heavy-handed and the presence of Sylvia Plath quotes betray a lack of originality. The Dummy’s ultimate indignity is its use of the infamous ‘jumper’ footage from the 9/11 attacks as background imagery for the protagonist’s final monologue. The stark contrast between genuine tragedy and its simulation highlights just how fake and manipulative the whole production is.
The Dummy is presented by Navi Collaborative and plays as part of Auckland Fringe at The Basement. Details see The Basement.